The Atlanta sports market carries a certain reputation—it’s the rep of the big tease. Regardless of the sport—whether we’re talking Braves, Falcons, Hawks, or Georgia Bulldogs, the city of Atlanta seems to always find a way to come up just short. As TheSportsNotebook wraps up its preseason MLB coverage, there’s only one team left to cover and that’s the Braves. We’ll take a look at their chances in the broader context of their home city’s thirst for a championship.
It’s not as though it’s been forever for the good people of Atlanta. The Braves won the World Series back in 1995. The Falcons at least made it to the Super Bowl three years later. The Georgia football team won a national title in 1980. Put it this way—there are people in Cleveland who’d probably trade places in a heartbeat.
But Atlanta has still had more postseason failures than successes, and the city’s current run seems to exemplify that. Consider the following…
*The Braves were the best of the four wild-card teams in MLB last year, only it happens to be the first season that the wild-card has to play a one-game knockout rather than going directly to the Division Series. Not only does Atlanta lose, but they lose to St. Louis, the very team that caught them from behind in the epic finish to the 2011 NL wild-card race. And not only do the Braves lose to the Cardinals, but their last chance of winning the game was snuffed out on an atrocious infield fly call in the eighth inning that bailed St. Louis out from a defensive blunder.
*The Falcons roll to a #1 seed in the NFC playoffs and in spite of blowing a big lead in the divisional playoff round against Seattle, Atlanta survives, and them jumps out to a 17-0 lead on San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Even after blowing the lead and trailing 28-24, the final drive is snuffed out. First, because a receiver falls down on sideline route with an open path to the lead touchdown. Then on a fourth-down incompletion where pass interference should have been called.
*The Hawks lose a tough six-game series to the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. On the surface, this is no big deal, but Atlanta missed a chance to put a stranglehold on the series when they lose Game 2 at home with Rajon Rondo suspended. Then the Hawks dropped a heartbreaker in Game 6 where they were one big basket from getting a decisive seventh game at home, and then would have played an undermanned Philadelphia team in the second round.
*The Georgia football team played its way into the SEC Championship Game, a de facto national semi-final against Alabama. The Dawgs led in the second half and even after giving up the lead, were driving for the winning touchdown, inside the 10-yard line in the final seconds when some awful clock management cost them a couple extra shots at the end zone. Then Georgia had to watch Alabama obliterate Notre Dame for the national title, knowing that if not for that bad end-game management, it could have been them hoisting the BCS trophy in Miami.,
*Even Georgia Tech football got into the act. The Yellow Jackets only went 6-6, but backed into the ACC Championship Game and got in position to pull off what would have been a monster upset over Florida State. Of course the comeback bid came up short, 21-15.
So you can understand why the people of Atlanta might be hungrier for something more than just a good season and a playoff appearance. Their Braves have a challenge ahead, with the NL East having a hungry young team in Washington and a hungry old team in Philadelphia. I think you also have to be a little concerned about the Braves’ pitching. Tim Hudson is still a tough, durable veteran, but do you really want him as your #1 starter? What are the odds Kris Medlen repeats his amazingly hot showing from the second half of last season? Brandon Beachy is still out until June. Atlanta has to have Mike Minor develop and Paul Maholm continue to improve.
The outfield looks good, with the acquisition of Justin Upton from Arizona, the signing of B.J. Upton on the free agent market and putting them with Jason Heyward. Although here we should note that Werth has yet to match his rookie year of 2010, and Upton’s on-base percentages are much too low for a speedy guy who could make noise on the bases.
Andrelton Simmons is a promising young shortstop who will at least be good defensively, although his bat remains a question mark. The Braves have to replace Chipper Jones at third base, and catcher Brian McCann is dealing with shoulder problems. Dan Uggla, the 33-year-old second baseman has seen his production decline for two straight years. Fredi Freeman is a good hitter at first base, although if Atlanta is going to be really good, the 25-year-old Freeman likely needs to lift his numbers even beyond the range of the .340s in OBP and .450s in slugging that he’s been at.
I’m not as down on the Braves as this article’s tone makes it seem. I think this is a good team that’s going to be in the playoff conversation all year long. My concern is that I don’t feel like they match up well in a tough division. That’s why I’m picking them go Under on their projected win total of 88, and saying they’ll just miss the playoffs. In short, Atlanta will be good, but not good enough. It’s a phenomena the city understands.